One in three Britons would mind if Northern Ireland voted to leave the UK, poll finds

Just over a third of the public in Great Britain hope Northern Ireland would vote to remain in the United Kingdom, new research by Ipsos MORI for King’s College London has found.

The author(s)

  • Dr. Roger Mortimore Ipsos Public Affairs, UK
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Just over a third of the public in Great Britain hope Northern Ireland would vote to remain in the United Kingdom if given the choice, new research by Ipsos MORI for King’s College London has found. Half as many, one in six, would prefer a vote to leave, but the rest do not mind either way or have no opinion.

The survey, conducted online in February with 1,084 adults aged 16-75 across Great Britain, asked how people would prefer Northern Ireland to vote if it were to hold a referendum on its future. Only 36% said they would like Northern Ireland to choose to stay in the Union while 18% preferred that it should leave and join the Republic of Ireland; a further 36% said that they did not mind either way and 9% did not know. (By way of comparison, when the public were asked in a 2014 Populus poll how they hoped Scotland would vote in its independence referendum, 54% said they would prefer Scotland to vote to remain part of the UK; 17% hoped it would vote for independence and 29% said they had no strong view either way.)

Conservatives are most likely to hope that Northern Ireland would vote to stay in the UK: 51% of those who would currently vote Conservative say they would prefer Northern Ireland to vote to stay, compared to 35% of Labour supporters and 31% of Liberal Democrats. Those who voted for Britain to Remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum are more likely (23%) to want Northern Ireland to leave the Union and join the Republic than are those who voted Leave (15%).

The research also found that one person in three (32%) thinks that Brexit will make it more likely that Northern Ireland will join the Republic over the next ten years, with only 6% thinking it will make it less likely. However, the majority think it will make no difference or don’t know. More of those who voted “Remain” in the referendum than of those who voted “Leave” think that Brexit will make a United Ireland more likely.

More also expect Brexit to have a damaging effect in Ireland than a beneficial one. Two in five (39%) predict a negative effect on the Northern Irish economy over the next ten years or so, 33% a similar effect on the economy in the Republic, and 31% on the risk of terrorism in Northern Ireland.

Three in four adults who live in Great Britain say they have never visited Northern Ireland, and a further 15% have visited only once or twice. Just 2% have lived or worked there, and 4% have visited many times. Britons are more likely to have travelled to the Republic of Ireland: 1% have lived or worked there, 5% have visited many times and 29% once or twice, although almost two-thirds have not visited at all. People who been to Northern Ireland are considerably more likely than those who have not to have a preference on how Northern Ireland should vote in any referendum on its future.

People who have been to Northern Ireland are considerably more likely than those who have not to have a preference on how Northern Ireland should vote in any referendum on its future.

Roger Mortimore, Professor of Public Opinion and Political Analysis at King’s College London, said:

When Scotland voted on whether to become independent in 2014, there was a clear majority among the public in the rest of the UK that hoped it would choose to stay. But many fewer Britons, it seems, would mind if Northern Ireland decided to leave the Union. Most have never been there, and most have no clear view on how it will be affected by Brexit.

Technical Note

1. Interviews were conducted online by Ipsos MORI among a representative quota sample of 1,084 adults aged 16-75 across Great Britain between 22 and 26 February 2019. Data have been weighted to the known profile of the British population in this age range.

2. Full question wording for each of the questions referred to in this release is given in the accompanying “topline” results document and further breakdowns of the result are shown in the computer tables. Further details can be found at www.ipsos-mori.com.

3. The 2017 ICM poll to which reference is made was conducted for British Future: details are available at the independent “What Scotland Thinks” website.

4. The survey was conducted for the Polling Club at King’s College London. The Polling Club, run by Professor Roger Mortimore, allows students to increase their knowledge and understanding of survey research and public opinion by helping to design and analyse the results from a poll carried out by Ipsos MORI. For further details about the Polling Club, contact Professor Mortimore.

The author(s)

  • Dr. Roger Mortimore Ipsos Public Affairs, UK

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